The 12-megapixel Canon EOS 450D (Rebel XSi in the US) features live view, 9-point AF and a 3in LCD.
As with the feature set, the upgrades regarding performance can be taken as refinements and tweaks of what was here previously. As such, Canon users will no doubt be familiar with the interface and pleased with the extra options available, though those new to the system might not be so enthusiastic, for reasons which I’ll cover later on.
Kit Lens AF
Despite the lack of a USM motor in the kit lens, focusing speed is, overall, generally good. The usual challenges such as monotone, detailess areas and low light levels can give the AF system a little to chew on, at which point the lens hunts and demonstrates just how noisy it can be (something also true of the mirror). Otherwise its performance isn’t great, but still good.
Shooting continuously using a Lexar 4GB Class 6 SDHC card, Raw+JPEG images managed, on average, to be captured at just under the promised four frames before the buffer began to slow it down. Raw images alone also just fell short of the stated six, with an average performance closer to five. JPEGs met and even exceeded their 53 frame limit, at a rate of 3.5fps when shooting static subjects in a studio environment, but employing AI Focus for moving subjects in more impromptu situations slowed this figure down, as the camera attempted to track the subject.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that settings such as Highlight Tone Priority and Noise Reduction have an effect on processing times, and therefore burst rates; with high-ISO noise reduction activated, for instance, I could only manage to shoot two large JPEG frames before the buffer slowed things down.
Shooting in Live View
Setting up the camera for live-view shooting and changing its settings can be a little frustrating, with options spread over the Live View Function Settings and Custom Functions options, rather than one ‘live view’ menu. Additionally, the Display button toggles between displaying shooting information and a histogram (or both), but enabling and disabling the grid requires you to go to the appropriate menu system to do either, and takes an unnecessary amount of time. Thankfully, using live view is much breezier.
The ‘Live’ mode, using contrast detection, is considerably slower than the Quick mode, but giving a real-time view makes it useful for still-life photography, or any situation where a tripod may be used. I particularly found this mode useful when magnifying into the area before manually focusing on fine detail. The fixed LCD doesn’t quite make it as versatile as competitors with tilting types, but you do benefit from the larger LCD screen in comparison to these models.
Minor Menu Grumbles
In the absence of any major flaws, it’s perhaps just a few minor operational points that let the camera down. These relate to where certain options are positioned within the menu system and their ease – or rather difficulty – of access. A prime example is the Picture Style settings, which can be chosen and changed easily enough via the lower menu pad button, but altering any of their parameters – such as toning effects, filters or sharpness adjustments – requires a trawl through the main menus.
A far simpler solution would have been to allow adjustments once the Picture Style menu is up – as is the case on the 40D – and though you may not need to change sharpness and brightness on a continuous basis, experimenting with the different filters and toning effects can take an unnecessarily long time. Admittedly the model is aimed at a different market than that of the 40D, but its inclusion here wouldn’t have been too difficult.
‘My Menu’ Shortcut
The only way to quicken access to these controls – as well as to the Highlight Tone Priority, Auto Lighting Optimiser and Mirror Lock up which are also all inconveniently rooted within the Custom Functions menu – is for their individual assignment to the My Menu menu. Setting up a customised menu is, of course, of benefit (and indeed, one of the finer options available on the camera), but it’s not something everyone will do and highlights how inaccessible the menu system is to begin with.
All of this is admittedly nit-picking at an otherwise competent system; these issues won’t put someone off buying the camera, they just take a little getting used to. It’s clear that the camera is all about being customised to the user’s shooting habits and needs, and once configured it’s fantastic to use. I still feel, however, that Canon has added features without considering their access within the menu system as a whole. Nevertheless, a little experimentation and a thorough read of the manual will pay dividends in the long run.